Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Lover" by James Sewell Ballet at the Cowles Center

Speaking about musicals, Garrison Keillor recently said, "I don't know anything else that can really just elevate people. You walk out on air. And you walk out into the squalor and the noise and the crowded city and you feel sort of magical." Here's something else that can do that - dance. After seeing beautiful performances of three diverse pieces by James Sewell Ballet at the shiny new Cowles Center last night, I walked out into the busy streets of Minneapolis and felt sort of magical, like I knew a secret that no one else knew. I don't know what all those people were doing out in the city on a cold Saturday night, but I'm pretty sure it was nowhere near as delightful and moving as what I experienced.

As a theater geek, I don't often go to see dance performances, but I do occasionally, just to mix things up a little. I chose to see this one because the first of three pieces, Lover, features the music of the great musical theater composing team Rodgers and Hart, performed by my favorite pianist Dan Chouinard and one of my favorite actor/singers Bradley Greenwald. It was a great excuse to go see some ballet!

Lover: This is the most theatrical of the three pieces, and really tells the story of four couples. Bradley Greenwald and Maria Jette sing the songs of Rodgers and Hart, accompanied by Dan Chouinard on piano. Just these three amazing musicians performing together would be entertainment enough! If they did this piece as a concert with just the three of them onstage, I would go and I would love it (musical highlights include the gorgeous "My Funny Valentine" and a wordless scatting version of "The Lady is a Tramp" )The singers also play characters and are so expressive that I had a hard time looking away from them to watch the dancing. But fortunately I did, because the dancing is charming, delightful, whimsical, and very accessible for a ballet novice like myself. The seven-member company, along with special guest and company co-founder Sally Rousse (elegant in a glamorous red dress with a long cigarette holder), perform the choreography of James Sewell. The four couples fight, make up, flirt, and change partners, all in gorgeously expressive movement.

the company performs Lover

Glitter Garden: This is a solo piece by company member Nic Lincoln, choreographed for him by Larry Keigwin (who also choreographed the recent off-Broadway production of RENT). The performance begins as people are filing back into their seats after intermission. Nic is in character, just off-stage, getting photographed by papparazzi and putting on his stage make-up. He makes his way to the stage as the lights go down, changes into his costume (which consists of brass knuckles, epaulettes, and a gladiator skirt), and begins the performance. It's a strong, powerful performance, with sharp, fast movements, some of which are reminiscent of a marionette. At one point it literally rains glitter upon him, as he poses for a photo shoot. I assume this is some sort of commentary on fame or celebrity. Whatever it means, it's quite beautiful and fascinating to watch.

Your Move: The final piece was choreographed by James Sewell based on recorded moves by audience members, gathered at performances over the last year. These video recordings are sometimes displayed on large white fabric that serve as screens, either simultaneously with the dancers or in rotation. It's really remarkable to see what James and the company have created based on a few moves, some silly, some quite lovely on their own. The ensemble is dressed in sporty clothes in black and grey, with orange accents and the James Sewell Ballet logo, like the JSB workout collection (which they should totally develop and sell, I'd buy it!). The audience moves are well organized into segments, some just weird facial expressions, some slow and elegant movements, some jerky staccato. All of it woven seamlessly and beautifully together to create a new expression of the shared joy of dance.

Unfortunately last night was the final performance of Lover, but I think I will be checking out JSB again. The company epitomizes the beauty of the body in movement. It's quite amazing to think that these dancers have the same set of muscles that we all were born with, but they make them do that! Of course it's more than just the movements, it's also the emotional expression, which these dancers also do quite well. They emote not just with their movements but their facial expressions as well. It really does, like Garrison says, make one feel  sort of magical.